The long, wet growing season of 2019 has transitioned to a long, wet harvest season in South Dakota, with farmers behind in their efforts to get their crops out of the field.
“Everyone is behind due to the wet weather,” said Theresa Hoadley, program director with the South Dakota Farm Service Agency state office in Huron. “In general, everything is behind.”
The lack of progress in the 2019 harvest stems from an unusually wet spring and planting season which delayed getting crops in the ground and the continued moisture that has saturated fields this fall, making it difficult for farmers to get their equipment into the fields, Hoadley said. Much of what was planted in the spring went into the field late, which shortened the amount of time for the crop to mature.
There were only 4.5 days suitable for fieldwork last week, a slight improvement over the 2.9 days suitable for fieldwork the previous week, according to the United States Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service.
About 9 percent of corn has been harvested in the state, behind the 24 percent harvested at this time in 2018. The average for this point in the season is 29 percent. Corn maturity was rated at about 74 percent, far behind the 96 percent rating at this time last year and the 95 percent five-year average.
The sorghum harvest in South Dakota is also behind schedule. Statistics from the USDA show that 84 percent of sorghum in the state was rated as mature as of last week, just slightly behind 86 percent at this time last year and the 87 percent average.
The state's soybean harvest is further along. Statistics indicate 33 percent of soybeans are now out of the field, though that is still behind the 45 percent harvested at this point last year and well-behind the 76 percent average.
Hoadley said the combination of a late start and poor working conditions in the fall have put producers weeks behind schedule, if not more.
“I think we’re a good month behind,” Hoadley said. “Right now we need dry weather, basically, so producers can get back in the fields. The crops aren’t going to mature any more; we just need it to dry out so we can get everybody back in there.”
While farmers pick and choose their spots to get in the fields, Hoadley said the best scenario would be an extended period of dry weather. The general forecast shows temperatures in the 30s and 40s and no more than a 20 percent chance of precipitation in the Mitchell area over the next week and a half.
Hoadley said that provides some hope, but weather forecasts can change on short notice.
“Every time I look at it it changes,” Hoadley said of the weather forecast. “Right now the averages look like they will be in the 30s and 40s but not a lot of moisture, but that changes every day.”
Brad Letcher, east region manager for the Country Pride Cooperative office in Freeman, said that like much of the rest of the state, farmers in southeast South Dakota are fighting to stay on schedule.
“They’re quite a ways behind. We should probably be working on fieldwork right now, but we’re not,” Letcher said.
Letcher said many low-lying areas in the region did not get planted at all, and what did go in was mostly cover crops.
“We didn’t get that much stuff planted. A lot of guys are fighting just to get their cover crops out,” Letcher said.
Soybeans are making their way out, but whatever farmers are working on, the conditions in the field are not good.
“I think they’re getting out what they got in, but the field conditions are bad. It’s really wet, and it doesn’t look like they’re going to dry,” Letcher said.
Letcher said a good hard freeze could help alleviate some of the wet conditions, but there likely isn’t a better solution than warm temperatures and dry weather.
“Some people say if the ground freezes it might help them, but it’s hard to say,” Letcher said.
And anything that may help producers get their crops out this fall could mean improved planting conditions in the spring. But Letcher said with the wet fall and winter on the way, it could mean another wet spring in 2020.
And one season like 2019 is enough for now, Letcher said.
“We need to be able to plant next year, and we’re already looking at a pretty wet fall compared to last year,” Letcher said. “It’s a serious situation, no doubt.”